Sleeping well on the road can be hard. Take what happened to me earlier this month, when my buddy Matt and I spent ten days in Utah on a reporting trip. The guy snores like a gas-powered chainsaw, and the only way I could sleep was to fill my ears with plugs. I called in several different nonelectric styles. Here’s how they stacked up.
Alpine SleepSoft ($18 for 1 Pair)
Best for: Making sure you get to work on time
These earplugs don’t block all the noise coming into your ears. Instead, they use a small cylindrical filter in the middle to dampen the sound. The point? You should be able to muffle the noise but still hear your alarm in the morning.
They worked as advertised. I could hear Matt doing his thing, but I was still able to rest and wake up on time. They were also the most comfortable by far of any set I tested, thanks to soft rubber cones that slide into your ears. Side sleepers, take note.
Etymotic ER 20XS ($25 for 1 Pair)
Best for: Concertgoers
Etymotic designed these earplugs to evenly turn down the volume from both high and low sounds. They’re heavier-duty than the Alpines, above, and are best for standing in the front row of a concert. As a result, they weren’t as comfortable as the Alpine plugs.
Mack’s Snore Mufflers ($10 for 6 Pairs)
Best for: Cheap efficiency
Mack’s makes these plugs from a moldable silicone to ensure a custom fit. They take a little work to mold and squeeze, but once you get the fit right, they’re highly effective—and cheap. Matt’s loud snores were turned into distant ambient noise, and I conked out immediately. Tip: Mack’s also make a waterproof version of these silicone earplugs, which are great for surfing and kayaking because they prevent water from getting into your ears.
Mack’s Ultra Soft Foam Earplugs ($9 for 50 Pairs)
Best for: Last-resort backups
These are the cheap foam earplugs you might get free on an airplane. You squish them down and shove them into your year, and they expand to block noise. I like that they’re inexpensive and fairly comfortable for sleeping, but they were not dense enough to cut out Matt’s snoring, forcing me to swap them with the Snore Mufflers after 20 infuriating minutes.
Hearos Ear Plugs Xtreme Protection Series ($6 for 14 Pairs)
Best for: Sleeping through a car race
Like the Snore Mufflers, these plugs blocked almost all of Matt’s nonstop snoring. They’re made from a super-dense foam that acts as a better filter than the materials of the other earplugs on this list. The only downside: the denser foam was harder to shove into my ear, making these the least comfortable earplugs I tested.
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